Aga shredded key document; Dramatic High Court revelation stuns Charlton team - 2000-01-14
THE Dublin High Court case featuring an action against the Aga Khan took another sensational turn yesterday when it was revealed that the Aga had personally shredded a document considered crucial to the proceedings.
The controversial Coulton memorandum is considered central to the action brought by Mary Charlton - a secretary at the Aga's Irish studs for 27 years - against his bloodstock holding company, the Studs Societe Civile.
Charlton is seeking orders that she is entitled to continue her employment, that an internal inquiry into alleged misconduct be declared unlawful and that she be awarded damages.
The memorandum, prepared by chartered accountant Richard Coulton on June 18, 1998, deals with irregularities at the Irish studs. It was sent direct to the Aga and a copy also sent to Henry Carnegie, his French-based American lawyer. The memorandum also reports on Charlton's role as secretary to Ghislain Drion, who resigned as Irish stud manager in 1998.
Charlton maintains that it was the Aga's practice to write notes and instructions on memos received by him and so her legal team wanted to see his copy of the memorandum.
Proceedings were interrupted at 12.45pm yesterday when copies of an affidavit sworn by Carnegie were rushed into the court.
The lawyer stated: "His Highness has instructed me that he received Mr Coulton's memo of June 18, 1998. He
further instructed me that, having read the memo, he shredded it personally."
Carnegie then appeared to dash the hopes of Charlton's lawyers by adding: "His Highness has instructed me that the memo was not annotated prior to its shredding.
"His Highness cannot recall exactly when the memo was shredded but he instructs me that it is generally his practice in relation to documents which he shreds himself to do so promptly."
The Aga also appeared to deny having ordered Charlton to be fired because Carnegie continued: "His Highness further instructs me that he did not issue instructions to either Richard Coulton, Frank Faughan or myself or any other person, to take any steps in relation to the termination, or alteration of the terms of, Mrs Charlton's employment."
Faughan is the personnel manager/security officer for the Irish studs and was in court yesterday.
Carnegie continued: "The instructions which he [the Aga Khan] gave to Frank Faughan were that he should identify the persons involved in the fraud on the company, ascertain the extent of it and recover any losses."
It was alleged earlier in the day that Maurice Behan, a farrier who shod many of the horses at the studs, had witnessed the irregularities.
Ercus Stewart, the senior counsel acting for Charlton, said: "Mr Drion gave Mr Behan work and Mr Behan swore that he worked on 39 horses belonging to Mr Drion.
"Mr Drion denied this but, as a result of that, an investigation was carried out and Mr Drion was found to have used the stud's resources."
Much of the afternoon was taken up with arguments about a letter sent by Faughan to Charlton on June 29, 1999, requesting her to return to work the following Monday, and whether the letter was in contempt of an earlier judicial order.
The hearing continues today when a date may be fixed for the trial.